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Why are so many Iranian minors seeking asylum in Europe? | Immigration

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The reports on the dramatic rise in the number of Iranians seeking asylum in Europe, especially unaccompanied children, are profoundly unsettling.

Prominent human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr recently drew attention to this phenomenon through a Twitter thread in which she highlighted the rise in the number of Iranian asylum seekers between 2013 and 2018. 

“Interestingly, last year,” she tweeted, “the number of unaccompanied Iranian children seeking asylum was higher than the number of unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Syria – three countries that are involved in armed conflict.”

People responded to Sadr’s thread with shock and disbelief. Iran is obviously far from being a paradise, but it is certainly safer and more stable than most of its embattled neighbours suffering from internal conflicts and broken economies. This is why many Iranians don’t quite understand how or why some of the parents among them would choose to risk the lives of their children by sending them alone into the unknown.

Many on social media accused the families who choose to send their offspring away without the necessary legal and economic protections of being irresponsible. Some even blamed satellite TV channels like London-based Manoto and BBC Persian for misrepresenting the life in the West by under-reporting the difficulties.

However, the reality is not that simple. The act of sending your child off into such an arduous journey indicates not irresponsibility or naivety, but abject desperation, which has spread across many layers of Iranian society.

Lost hope

Emigration from Iran is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Over the last four decades hundreds of thousands of Iranians have left their homeland and over time constituted a diaspora of four million people around the world. Some managed to obtain the necessary documents and flew over to other countries to set up a new life, some walked across mountains and jumped over barbed wires and languished in refugee camps before settling in a new home.

The largest wave of migration occurred after the 1979 revolution, as the new regime launched a vicious campaign of prosecution against all dissident groups. The start of the war with Iraq a year later made migration a matter of survival for many and further intensified this immigration wave. Then, there was another wave after the failure of reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s administration to bring about a major political change, a significant one after the crackdown on the Green Movement.

Over the past decade, most Iranian emigrants were leaving the country because of political crackdowns, illegal asset confiscation by the state, heavy-handed social and religious control, or the danger of persecution based on sexual orientation.

But sending unaccompanied children on a dangerous journey is a novelty. Such desperate decisions are being made today in Iran because many Iranians have lost all hope for the future. They believe that their children can only have a future if they leave the county. 

Of course, there are Iranian parents who can afford a safe passage for their children to the West.

The list begins with the powerful politicians, the supposedly staunch enemies of the West. The children of many people in the highest positions of power, from Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani to Hossein Fereydoun, brother and aide of President Hassan Rouhani, all live in the West. This has recently been a topic of heated debate in the Iran media, so much so that Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly demanded President Donald Trump to publish the list of all children of Iranian government officials in the United States.

Then there are the middle classes in the big cities, who are far more pro-Western than prominent politicians. They go through great difficulties to send their children abroad, mostly through paying exorbitant tuition fees of European and American universities.

And now, there are the children of the urban and the rural poor who are sent abroad on dangerous journeys as the last beacon of hope for whole extended families. There has always been poverty in Iran, but the desire for mass migration among impoverished communities has never been as strong. 

I have relatives in the south of Iran – fishermen, who have hardly left their towns over the course of their lives – now talking about migration. I know of farmers in the south-west who have lived through the revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and poverty and remained; but now, after all these years, they have also decided that the youngsters of their families should leave.

This is a sign of a new level of hopelessness among Iranians never seen before. But why does the future of the young generation in Iran appear so bleak? There are at least three reasons.

Rampant corruption and inequality

The 1979 Islamic Revolution put fighting corruption on top of its priority list. Yet, today, some 40 years later, corruption is so rampant that it is causing disastrous inequality and much public anger. According to Transparency International, in 2017, Iran was the fourth most corrupt country in the world in the eyes of its people. 

Over the last few years, taking advantage of the tumultuous market and under the guise of privatisation, the Iranian elite has embezzled millions of dollars from banks, financial institutions and companies and transferred the assets abroad. For example, only through the last two quarters of 2018, $30bn was transferred out of Iran. 

The display of inequality in the big cities, especially Tehran, rubs salt into this wound. Struggling masses watch the children of a small elite driving their Lamborghinis and Porsches around, posting photos of their lavish parties and their travels around the world on social media. This flagrant spectacle of inequality has created deep anger and pessimism about the future.

Economic sanctions

After years of severe sanctions, which brought the Iranian economy to the verge of collapse, in 2015, Iran finally signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted some of them. However, just as the Iranian economy was getting back on its feet, Trump single-handedly and senselessly tore up the deal Iran had fully abided by. 

Like in the past, it will be Iran’s ordinary people who will bear the brunt of the sanctions regime. Workers and government employees will be severely affected, as well as urban and rural poor, who are dependent on government support, and have been struggling with cut back on subsidies and delayed paycheques. Also, the dramatic inflation rate of basic commodities hits the poor first and diminishes their purchasing power.

Trapped between the rock of a cruel, unjustifiable punishment from the international community and the hard place of their own incompetent leaders, many Iranians feel abandoned, betrayed by the world that only three years ago promised them peace and prosperity.

An environmental crisis

Apart from the corruption and sanctions, which have been a persistent feature of the Iranian reality for many years, there seems to be another important factor which is causing rural Iranians – say, a fisherman in Bushehr or a farmer in a village in Lorestan – to try to send their children to the West. It is climate change. 

Currently, Iran is in the middle of an environmental tragedy. Years of drought, combined with mismanagement of water and outdated agricultural technology, has caused shortages of water in large parts of the country, jeopardising the life and work of farmers. Also, the rising temperature of oceans and industrial fishing by mostly Chinese boats has decreased the number of fish. According to some estimates, 97 percent of Iran has serious problems with water resources.

This, along with the economic sanctions and corruption, has already caused a massive wave of internally displaced people. Even Abd al-Reza Rahmani Fazli, the minister of internal affairs, recently warned that within five years, internal migration will change the face of the country, and, if the current trend continues, in 10 years, Iran will undergo an “enormous catastrophe”.

If corruption continues in the same unbridled fashion, economic sanctions keep taking their toll and the environmental crisis continues to be left untended, the pressure on the very fabric of the society might be too huge to bear. That will exacerbate the internal migration towards the greener north and continue to increase the number of migrants to other countries, especially unaccompanied children, whose family see no hope for their future in Iran.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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